Rain Garden, a new free iPhone app, guides users on how to create and install rain gardens that curtail runoff of pollutants, prevent erosion, and provide wildlife habitat. Development of the app was funded by the NOAA Sea Grant Climate Change Adaptation Capacity Building Initiative and developed by Connecticut Sea Grant and the University of Connecticut Center for Land Use Education and Research.
The free app debuted this month in Apple's iTunes store. The Rain Garden app is designed to help landscapers, contractors, and homeowners design, install, and maintain rain gardens. The app includes tutorials to help gardeners install a garden, select native plants, and choose a site for the garden. It includes soil drainage maps, six video tutorials, and a searchable plant database. The app can use Global Positioning System coordinates for individual addresses, making planning specific to a localized plot of land, not just a general area.
Currently the Rain Garden app is intended for southern New England, but the app team plans to work with partners to create a national version as well as one for Android devices.
Among the tools the app provides is a calculator to show soil and water characteristics and project costs. The plant catalog allows users to select plants suited to their location. For example, a search for "shrubs in part sun with colors blue and orange" produces a list of native plants fitting that criteria with photos and care requirements. A user can plan multiple gardens and save them for future reference or sharing.
Also, users can send their garden plans to the app developers at Connecticut Sea Grant and the University of Connecticut Center for Land Use Education and Research. Researchers there will use the plans to calculate how much stormwater the gardens filter and the amount of pollution runoff they prevent.
What are rain gardens and why are they important?
When it rains, runoff from rainwater carries pollutants into any nearby stream, river, lake, or ocean. Rain gardens are created in a depression in the landscape. They collect water from rooftops, yards or driveways and allow it to infiltrate the ground where selected plants have been placed and topped with mulch. By building a healthy rain garden using attractive native plants, property owners can reduce the amount of pollution that would otherwise enter nearby water bodies. Rain gardens also prevent erosion, remove standing water, and create habitat for wildlife such as butterflies and birds. They work well in urban and residential areas, including hospitals, offices, and school settings. NOAA's new Center for Weather and Climate Prediction in College Park, Md., incorporates a rain garden.
In 2010, NOAA Sea Grant awarded one of several community climate change adaption grants to Mike Dietz, Connecticut Sea Grant extension educator; and David Dickson of the University of Connecticut's Center for Land Use Education and Research. They used the grant to develop rain garden training sessions and demonstration projects. One of the demonstration projects was the rain garden installed in 2010 behind the Bridgeport Aquaculture High School facing Long Island Sound. The school, which is in a coastal city that experiences frequent flooding and is only two feet above sea level, stayed dry throughout Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. Done properly, a rain garden can redirect a tremendous amount of rainwater.
Scientists predict that heavy downpours will occur more frequently with climate change in the Northeast United States. Flooding from sea-level rise combined with storm surge is also a big concern.
Rain garden resources
Because rain gardens offer so many environmental benefits, other Sea Grant programs are promoting them too. Oregon Sea Grant has developed a how-to publication to guide citizens in setting up rain gardens. Maryland Sea Grant also conducts rain garden trainings and projects and has posted the information on Angie's list where contractors and customers can learn more. Texas Sea Grant has partnered with volunteers, including Girl Scouts, to build rain gardens at Armand Bayou, Dickinson Bayou, and several others in the greater Houston area. Developing the app was a logical next step, putting training and examples literally in peoples' hands.
NOAA's mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us at www.noaa.gov and join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.